State of the University Address
President Sara Jayne Steen
Plymouth State University
25 March 2015
Colleagues, student leadership, members of the Board of Trustees, of the President’s Council, of the Alumni Association Board, and of PSU’s host town and county government, representatives of our Congressional delegation, friends, thank you all for being here.
This year has been hard for many on campus. It was not just the cold weather, although we are having a strong and long New Hampshire winter, and we owe thanks to Physical Plant for their good work in keeping the campus clear and safe.
More than that, this year the demographic shifts affecting particularly New England led to an enrollment shortfall, and thus a revenue shortfall, that required reductions of $4.4M in order to bring this year’s budget into balance and to continue investments. We addressed the issue straightforwardly. We came together in discussions, and we made difficult choices. Next year’s budget is being prepared now, with increases in some areas and reductions in others, and an inclusive University Review and Strategic Allocation (URSA) process is underway to guide longer-term future reallocation decisions so that we can continue to invest in innovation and the strategies that are important for PSU’s future.
Because those strategies are working. PSU had grown substantially over the early 2000s. The previous application record was set in autumn of 2011, just over three years ago. Now, as a result of focused multi-year investments in admissions, marketing, programs, and new and repurposed facilities, PSU has received a new record high number of inquiries for next fall. Open houses have attracted record numbers of visitors. We have a record number of applications and from very good students. We have a record number of deposits to date. There is much still to do, as you well know if you attended the forums this week, but early signs are good.
I am grateful to the campus for your support and participation. You contribute your ideas, expertise, and talent to keep the University both excellent in quality and financially solid. Because of your work, the State of the University is strong. Plymouth State University is vibrant and energetically moving forward, positioning itself for the future.
People at PSU know what we do and why. It is about student success, and it begins with mission. In June of last year, PSU received its 10-year reaccreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. That report indicates that the campus understands and lives its mission as a comprehensive university, a category in US higher education that distinguishes PSU from research universities by its different balance between teaching and research (more teaching) and from liberal arts colleges by its different balance between liberal arts and professional programs (more professional programs). All of us can be proud of the achievements praised in that NEASC report.
Also this year, the campus’s new strategic plan, Focus 2020: Engaged Campus, Engaged Community, was completed, after two years of analysis and thinking about where the campus should be in the year 2020. Thank you to the many people who participated in that process as well.
While preparing the plan, the team examined PSU’s mission and worked not to change the Board of Trustees-approved mission, but to clarify its strands. PSU is a teaching university offering:
- academic excellence where students work closely with faculty mentors, receiving a personalized education that includes opportunities for hands-on, experiential learning inside and outside of the class;
- research, scholarship, and creativity in which faculty and graduate students involve undergraduate students in solving real-world problems and engaging in outreach;
- enriched character-building and transformational experiences on the residential campus, as well as increased use of technology in all coursework and through delivery that enhances access and high-impact learning for students;
- a variety of master’s degree programs and selected professional doctorates; and
- a culture of service and engagement where organizations, communities, and institutions are eager to form productive partnerships, enabling PSU to do good work for the region and provide experiential opportunities for students.
With those five points of mission, PSU defines a high standard for educational excellence and regional impact.
Let me focus more directly on two of those points, mentorship and experiential education through partnership. Recent studies in higher education emphasize mentorship as key to a deeply meaningful education, and mentorship is engrained in the Plymouth State culture. At PSU, students are prepared for the international marketplace and career success. But a university education should enrich the quality of life beyond the working world. Mentors inspire confidence and intellectual passion. Mentors find ways for students to engage.
In student orientations, I ask students to give their all in class, and I tell them that the faculty and staff will be their safety net as they go for the high bar. One student at the Academic Excellence ceremony gave his all as an experiment, his hypothesis being that I was wrong in thinking he could surprise himself. Of course, he did, and he speaks of his mentors with enthusiasm.
Another student writes about the English and Business faculty members who supported her in and beyond class, and changed her life. A new alumna, Alexandria Casale ’13, writes about her alma mater: “I was immediately considered a vital piece of the living organism that is PSU’s campus purely because I was a part of it. I was there, I was a student, and therefore I was important. What a concept!”
The evidence is beyond the anecdotal. According to the National Survey of Student Engagement, students at Plymouth have a higher level of interaction with their faculty than do their peers—and more academic challenge and a more supportive environment. In November of 2014, of alumni five years beyond graduation, who have seen their undergraduate education tested, 95 percent said they would choose PSU again.
That mentorship can be seen in the Student Showcase of Excellence, where students present original research and creativity, sponsored by faculty members. It can be seen in recognitions.
- Nadine Orejola received scholarships from the Geological Society of America for research on how sea level and climate affect coastal regions in northern latitudes, and Melanie Perello was awarded the International Phycological Society’s first Silva Grant for her work on algae and water quality in Ossipee and Squam Lakes. Both worked with faculty member Lisa Doner (Environmental Science and Policy and the Center for the Environment).
- MBA students Michele Cota and Owen Buckley, working with faculty member Michael Tentnowski (Business), were recognized nationally in the Small Business Institute competition for creating a marketing plan for Minus 33, an outdoor clothing manufacturer in Ashland, NH.
- Professional counseling students Kate Doucet, Ryan Aquilina, and Karen McLendon were recognized nationally in the American Counseling Association’s ethics essay competition, advised by faculty member Michael Mariska (Counselor Education and School Psychology).
- Forty students and ten recent alumni working with faculty member Dan Perkins (Music, Theatre, and Dance) had the memorable experience last April of performing by invitation at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
- In Athletics, students also are mentored. (There it’s called coaching.) This year the PSU women’s field hockey team won the Eastern College Athletic Conference New England Championship, women’s tennis earned the Little East Conference title, and men’s ice hockey gained the MASCAC title. Women’s tennis coach Barbara Rawlsky-Willett was named coach of the year, as was men’s ice hockey coach Craig Russell ‘04. Baseball coach Dennis McManus ’73, the 2014 winner of the Patricia Storer Award for a Distinguished Professional, Administrative, and Technical Employee, is retiring after 31 seasons. Last week I met some of his players’ parents, and their comments make us proud.
PSU’s divisions are actively enhancing student experiences. Under Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Julie Bernier and the academic leadership team, Academic Affairs is conducting a search for a dean of the first-year experience to focus on engaging students from their first semester in hands-on, minds-on learning. A new student success center led by Patrick Cate ’05G will better integrate international efforts, academic advising, and career services. The center will be the hub for the University’s participation in the Student Success Collaborative. In connection with that project, four faculty members this semester are piloting a robust advising tool that provides advisors with data to predict student success and offers real-time information about career opportunities anywhere in the country. The advising system will be available to the full campus later in 2015.
Much national attention appropriately has focused on how campuses are handling issues of student safety, sexual assault, and behavioral awareness. PSU’s recent CARE program (Concern, Assess, Referral, and Education) is an early alert program. Anyone who believes that someone needs support is invited to file a note of CARE, and a member of a multifaceted team will respond, whether the concern is academic or social or behavioral. This year, the team led by Dean of Students Jeff Furlone ’03G also worked with faculty members to introduce Title IX instruction into all sections of the first-year seminar, treating topics such as student safety, PSU’s policies, bystander intervention, and reporting. PSU launched a Title IX web page to provide students, faculty, staff, and the public with information. Additionally, PSU and Voices Against Violence, the local crisis services agency, signed an agreement to raise awareness and provide support, the first such arrangement between a crisis center and an institution of higher education in New Hampshire. Dean Furlone recently received the Beverly S. Seavey Community Service Award from Voices Against Violence in recognition of his commitment of time, support, and inspiration.
That focus on individual students matters. According to a national non-profit agency, Educate to Career, PSU graduates rank in the top 15 percent of more than 1,200 schools in employability. The data suggest that PSU graduates are better positioned to work in their field and receive better-than-average salaries than those from competing institutions. According to this autumn’s survey of alumni one year after graduation, 99 percent of respondents are either employed or in graduate school.
And it is gratifying to follow graduates’ career progress, to see Daniel Brevik ’11 on the cover of Opera News or read of Patrick Selmer ’12G as his first scientific project is launched into space by NASA. Senior educators and business leaders are returning to campus, speaking at events, becoming involved. Led by Alumni Relations Director Rodney Ekstrom ’09G, PSU has initiated an Alumni Mentoring Program in which alumni share their career experiences and advice with current students. This program builds strong mentoring relationships between alumni and students and is another example of a conscious emphasis on the mentorship that helps students prepare for rewarding careers and lives.
Let me turn now to another strand of mission, PSU’s culture of service and engagement supporting experiential learning. We at PSU are fortunate to have rich, productive partnerships with our host communities of Plymouth and Holderness, and throughout the Lakes Region and North Country and across New Hampshire. Regional partnerships allow our students to have hands-on, real-world educational experiences. They invite partners to engage with us in educating students at the same time that those students serve area schools, nonprofits, businesses, and agencies. This experiential education with regional service has become a hallmark of a Plymouth State education.
PSU’s three centers emphasize healthy places, communities, and people. This year the Center for the Environment celebrated its 10th anniversary of addressing environmental issues through research, education, and collaboration. Working with groups such as the Squam Lakes Association, White Mountain National Forest, and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, the Center provides students with excellent opportunities to learn. The Center for Rural Partnerships brings community partners together with faculty and students to work on projects such as civic planning, French-language support to businesses to make Canadian visitors comfortable, and economic analysis. Next month, we will celebrate in Lancaster, New Hampshire a project funded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the Lancaster Public History project. Students working with faculty member Linda Upham-Bornstein (History) collaborated with those in town offices, libraries, and historical societies to create a guide to Lancaster’s history, people, and places, a template for other public histories. The Center for Active Living and Healthy Communities supports local food initiatives, and students work on activities such as the Circle Trot, next month’s community walk-or-run to benefit a program for New Hampshire girls.
Similarly meaningful activities come from departments across the PSU campus. English majors promote literacy and creative writing in the schools. A Historic Preservation student has begun a PSU blog to keep track of student preservation projects. The Friends of the Pemi brings students together with leaders from the Plymouth Rotary Club, the Town of Holderness, and New Hampshire Departments of Resources and Economic Development and of Fish and Game, to steward the river and related historic sites, providing planning and research.
One research grant meeting New Hampshire’s needs deserves special mention. It allows PSU to bring together education and partnership to identify and treat troubled children. Faculty members Cindy Waltman and Gary Goodnough (Counselor Education and School Psychology) received a $2.2M, 3-year federal grant that allows PSU to offer paid internships and increase the number of interns providing mental health and substance abuse services to children and adolescents. PSU will partner with health centers, schools, community mental health agencies, and law enforcement to nurture safe and healthy communities.
The PSU Enterprise Center, a small-business incubator, in partnership with the Grafton County Economic Development Council, has expanded in its second year, with additional opportunities for students and area businesses. The Museum of the White Mountains has enhanced partnerships with groups such as the Appalachian Mountain Club and is collaborating with other museums to create the New Hampshire Heritage Museum Trail. The Museum’s newest exhibit, “Trail Clubs: Connecting People with the Mountains,” will open later this month.
In all of these partnerships, PSU is supported, sometimes financially by sponsors and donors and sometimes in student opportunities and advocacy, by an enthusiastic state and regional community.
We face challenges, too, as does all of higher education. PSU has more that we want and need to achieve, even in the face of significantly increased competition and a rapidly changing educational environment, with concerns in the state and across the nation about the cost and even the worth of higher education.
Seven goals are articulated in Focus 2020, the campus strategic plan, and they reflect PSU’s values. The first is that each and every PSU student will have an engaging educational experience. The second is that each and every PSU community member will share in the responsibility to provide students with a rich and supportive experience. The goals continue in a commitment to service, community partnership and environmental sustainability; to a diverse community; to a health and wellness-centered environment; to financial sustainability; and to increased alumni engagement and financial support.
Yes, the goals are lofty. With approximately 6,500 students from 42 states and 31 countries, just the first goal of reaching each and every student is daunting. But the plan has with it ways to consider achievement, specific measurable goals against which to assess progress. In some areas, such as health and wellness, PSU is strong and getting stronger. Denise Normandin, program manager for Healthy PSU, was recently named one of the nation’s top 100 health promotion professionals by the Wellness Council of America; nearly one in four employees has participated in the Walking at Work program; the American Heart Association this year named PSU a Fit-Friendly Worksite; and programs in health and wellness are increasing. In diversity, on the other hand, our location in rural central New Hampshire means that PSU must work even harder in recruiting diverse students and employees to provide students with the best and most relevant educational experience.
PSU also must financially support initiatives in order to create the future that the campus envisions. That means continuing to work on enrollment, on diversifying revenues, on continuing to manage resources prudently and effectively, and on reallocating as necessary to pay for strategic investments. The University Review and Strategic Allocation process (URSA) will help PSU do that. Provost Julie Bernier is the sponsor, and the project manager is Chief Information Officer Rich Grossman. Sixty bright and energetic people from across campus have committed themselves to an intense process in committees that will examine at one time all academic and administrative programs and communicate with the campus in a transparent and inclusive manner. As an administrator from another campus said recently, it’s what every institution of higher education should be doing. This is a process underway for all of us, the global “us.” Please learn about the process and share your ideas.
One of PSU’s strengths is its integrated, forward-looking planning based in thoughtful assessment of need and resources. For example, the doctoral programs in Education have grown to 84 candidates, meeting one strong ongoing need in New Hampshire and beyond, and another needed professional doctorate, in Physical Therapy, will begin working its way through the review process. That program will join Nursing, Health Care Administration, and Health and Human Performance in supporting an aging New Hampshire and New England population that will require many and more highly educated health care professionals for the workforce.
Earlier this month, PSU celebrated the opening of the repurposed Samuel Read Hall Building, with new class space for the Department of History, Philosophy, and Social Studies Education, expanded room for the Centers for the Environment and for Rural Partnerships, and new offices, seminar rooms, and laboratories for the Departments of Nursing and of Counselor Education and School Psychology. Physical Therapy will call the building home as well. The facility will allow PSU to expand capacity in STEM programs, including health disciplines for which there is much demand, in this Governor’s year of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Taksar notes the cost effectiveness of the well-designed and repurposed space. It is appropriate that Samuel Read Hall, who taught in Plymouth from 1837–40 and for whom the building was named, was one of the nation’s educational innovators.
ALLWell North, PSU’s newest facility for Active Living, Learning, and Wellness, will provide significant academic space for classes, especially in Health and Human Performance, as well as room for research, for the Center for Active Living and Healthy Communities, for Adventure Education, for programs in community health, and for athletics and recreation. Funded through a variety of sources, including state and campus capital dollars, fundraising, and a student fee, it will be important in attracting students. PSU’s largest academic building is expected to open next fall. As many of you know, John P. Clark ’71, ’73G will be transitioning from Athletic Director to serve as the facility’s founding manager and see its programs established. And many of you will be pleased that Vice President Taksar soon will lead the exploration of how Hyde Hall might be remodeled or expanded, part of the campus facilities master plan.
PSU’s personalized education and student achievement have meant an enhanced reputation. PSU has achieved national recognition for academic excellence, environmental sustainability, and internationalization, even as an excellent workplace. Until recently, however, there was still a sense of Yankee reticence on campus. People did not want to discuss marketing or say how good PSU is. On a personal level, I appreciate an unwillingness to brag. As your president, I say, “Get over it.”
With integrated efforts from the divisions of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs and from University Advancement, PSU’s communications world has shifted radically, and in exciting ways. For example, the Enrollment Management team under Vice President Jim Hundrieser has introduced CRM (client relationship management) technology that enables PSU to communicate more quickly and personally with each prospective and current student. PSU is collaborating with other University System schools on a call center, to provide information to prospective students about PSU programs whenever students inquire, not just when PSU’s offices are open.
The reconfigured Marketing Communications and Creative Services team, under Vice President for University Advancement Paula Lee Hobson, has developed new web materials and a marketing campaign entitled Experience Education. PSU has begun significant work in social media, which I hope that all of you are seeing regularly on your screens, and developed PSU’s first television ad, which was viewed by travelling faculty with excitement. We’ll pause now to show it.
PSU has invested in additional recruiters, developed transfer advisors to support partnerships with New Hampshire community colleges, begun direct marketing to prospective students in multiple stages of communications, and initiated mailings to high school juniors, all with good results to date. Based on research into student success, PSU has become, like many other good schools across the country, SAT test-optional, preferring to rely on students’ high school performance as a more reliable predictor of success. The financial aid team has developed a complex and responsive financial aid modeling system. The list here could go on. PSU is positioning itself for the future.
Another first this year was PSU’s state-wide dinner and awards ceremony. The PSU Alumni Association recognized Governor John Lynch with its Robert Frost Contemporary American Award, given to those who have made a profound difference to the country “North of Boston.” More than 400 citizens from across the state, leaders in business, nonprofits, and government, joined PSU in Manchester in honoring our former governor. At his request, the significant proceeds funded scholarships for New Hampshire students.
Such events and the expanded fundraising associated with them will be increasingly important to PSU. University Advancement has been reorganized, with marketing communications and creative services as well as alumni relations and fundraising now under the leadership of Vice President Hobson. Before I retire as president in June, and with the help of the President’s Council, PSU’s volunteer team of alumni and friends, I intend to complete PSU’s Imagine A Way comprehensive campaign at $20M. I’m pleased that this year PSU was able to announce as part of that campaign the largest planned gift in the institution’s history, thanks to Dick and Betty Hanaway. Next year, PSU plans a new feasibility study to determine donor interests and priorities for a subsequent comprehensive campaign to be led by my successor.
Advocacy is another form of communication in which PSU is now engaging regularly. Led by Executive Director of University Relations Steve Barba and Communications Liaison Janet Capaul, PSU is reaching out to supporters to join PSU in communicating about the good work being done and inviting the legislature to partner with us in support of public higher education. New Hampshire’s future will be stronger if public higher education can be better funded and more affordable to New Hampshire’s students. This year we hope to increase the University System’s appropriation to enable our schools to again freeze tuition for New Hampshire students. Given the state’s projected revenues, legislators face difficult decisions. I hope that you all have signed up to become PSU advocates.
The world PSU faces is different than the higher education world in which many of us grew up. It offers challenges, and also opportunities in expanded community college partnerships that give students additional pathways and ease of transferability; certificates and skills programs for career advancement or personal interest at all ages; education through technology at the student’s convenience. As New Hampshire’s population ages, think of the opportunity for making education truly life-long.
One person on campus commented recently that higher education is moving too fast for people to pause and breathe. It’s true that the era of contemplation and leisurely change is past. Innovation and nimbleness are words we must live by and, thankfully, at PSU people do so with energy—witness the high quality programs, the new and repurposed facilities to enable students and faculty to work at the highest levels, the achievements in sustainability, internationalization, and more. PSU is positioning itself for the future with both thought and enthusiasm.
This is my final State of the University address to you. I am honored to have served you for nine years as president. I have seen what this campus and its people are made of, and I will always love PSU. I have had the chance to see PSU’s doctoral authority approved unanimously in the legislature, to open new and remodeled academic buildings and residence halls, to engage with your ideas and initiatives, and to cheer your successes. Although Executive Director of University Relations Steve Barba also is retiring this year, and he will be missed, there remains at PSU a wonderful senior leadership team and extraordinary talent across this campus. I look forward to helping with the presidential transition.
Unlike the skeptics, I have no doubt about the positive value of public higher education. Like many of you, I am its product, as is my husband, and we live a better life than we once could have imagined. We hope that for our students.
Student speaker Eric Lozzi’s impressive remarks at the Last Beam Up ceremony for ALLWell North were a reminder of the importance of what we do. Education is faith in the future, faith in people and their capacity for growth, faith that through vigorous debate, good ideas eventually will win. We, all of us associated with higher education, are fortunate to do what we do, and I am fortunate to have been part of it with you. The future does begin with imagination, as we, in my mother’s words, imagine a way.